Nas – Magic 2

A feast of creativity...

There’s an oft repeated truism about Nas that he peaked too early; scaling the Himalayan heights of genius on ‘Illmatic’, some venture that the Queens rapper spent the subsequent years tracing a path down into the valleys below. Perhaps it’s time to flip that, however – Nas’ current run is not only up there with his best, it represents one of the best rap runs of all time.

Need more evidence? Succinct, tightly wound, and often explosive, ‘Magic 2’ adds further ammunition to his remarkable late career high. Closing the ‘King’s Disease’ trilogy earlier this year, he’s back once more – his fifth album in a little over three years, a bravura feast of word play combined to some of the most effective beats of his career.

Combining once more with Hit-Boy – the studio architect behind his recent golden run – ‘Magic 2’ finds Nas taking the energy of his 90s recordings into a fresh era. ‘Abacadabra’ taps into West Coast funk while Nas expresses that “doo-rag energy”, while the subtle 70s gospel-funk that drives ‘Office Hours’ ranks as an all-time high. The song’s dynamite opening gambit – “hip-hop’s back!” – gives way to incredible flows from the Queens artist, joined by a rejuvenated, bombastic 50 Cent. A true high point.

‘Black Magic’ blows off the dust of Hit-Boy’s sample collection, pivoting between Nas’ dextrous flow and those tumbling notes of piano. ‘Motion’ is sheer boom-bap exploration, illustration that fresh space remains within one of hip-hop’s oldest stylistic traits. “When we failed,” Nas boasts, “we only failed up”.

Yet it’s far from a homage to past glories. ‘Bokeem Woodbine’ is fuelled by Jamaican soundsystem culture, with the album stepping firmly out of the retro playbook. Indeed, a search for unity is a recurring theme on ‘Magic 2’, perhaps reaching its apex on ‘What This All Really Means’ – cross-referencing his upbringing, and the centrality of rap in the Black American experience, it’s a profound statement on the nature of the art, the sound of an artist working long enough to claim his own legacy.

‘Slow It Down’ is dominated by Nas’ mic muscle, giving way to the production crunch that frames ‘Pistols On Your Album Cover’. For an artist in the fourth decade of his career, Nas goes harder than some rappers less than half his age.

Closing with ‘One Mic, One Gun’, Nas spars with 21 Savage – “I got King’s Disease but I move like a knight” – constructing his own lineage in the process. For those who have followed Nas’ recent creative resurgence, ‘Magic 2’ offers more gristle to his mill, amplifying his unmistakable voice to profound levels. As one voice puts it: “When you turn legend you forget there’s no such thing as relevance…”


Words: Robin Murray

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